Yakov Mikhailovich Yurovsky (Я́ков Миха́йлович Юро́вский) was a Bolshevik who served in the Ural Soviet. He was best known for the execution of Czar Nicholas II, his household, and several retainers on the night of July 16/17, 1918.
Born in Tomsk, Russia on June 19, 1878, Yurovsky was the eighth of ten children. What is known about his family’s background is muddled. The Yurovsky’s were ethically Jewish, but their ties to Judaism seem to have been severed. Some historians believe that this was attributed to the czarist pogroms of the latter 19th century.
He lived in Germany for a time as a watchmaker before returning to Russia. By that time, the country had been rocked by the Revolution of 1905. During that time, he joined the Bolshevik Party.
During the Russian Civil War he was made head of the Ekaterinburg Cheka and was given the job of supervising the house arrest of the deposed Nicholas II and his family. The White Army, at the time, was in a position to capture Ekaterinburg. The local Cheka killed the royal family in the basement of Ipatiev House, the residence where they were being held.
The corpses were chopped up and burned with kerosene. Whatever remained of the bodies were buried in an unmarked grave.
After the defeat of the Red Army, Yurovsky was a star defendant during the Odessa Hearings. On the subject of the Romanov execution, he pleaded not guilty. He cited in his defense that he was under orders from Party secretary Yakov Sverdlov. While the Allies favored acquittal, the Whites demanded a conviction. In the end, Yurovsky was spared from execution, but exiled to Norway.
Memories of the shooting of the czar’s family would haunt him for the rest of his life. He died from a heart attack in Hammerfest on August 2, 1938.